“The answer is no! Keep your money! Keep your fame! I’m staying here! I won’t go! No,” and again, “No!” and a final, despairing, “No!”
The last cry died in the monster dinosaur’s throat. There was a dreadful moment of silence.
The moon slid behind a cloud.
I waited, with the sweat freezing over my face.
The monster sucked in a breath, exhaled, then turned and lumbered away, back through the forest, fading, at last gone, into oblivion. The pieces of telegram blew like moth wings on the lawn. I shut and locked the screen and went, mourning with relief, to bed. Just before dawn, I slept.
Now, in bed in Venice, waked from that dream, I went to my front door and looked out at the canals. What could I shout to the dark water, to the fog, to the ocean on the shore? Who would hear, what monster might recognize my mea culpa or my great refusal or my protest of innocence or my argument for my goodness and a genius as yet unspent?
Go away! could I cry? I am guilty of nothing. I must not die. And, let the others alone, for God’s sake. Could I say or shout that?
I opened my mouth to try. But my mouth was caked with dust that had somehow gathered in the dark.
I could only put one hand out in a gesture, a begging, an empty pantomime. Please, I thought.
“Please,” I whispered. Then shut the door.
At which point, the telephone across the street in my special phone booth rang.
I won’t answer, I thought. It’s him. The Ice Man.
The phone rang.
The phone rang.
“Shut up!” I shrieked.
The phone stopped.
My weight collapsed me into bed.
Crumley stood in his door blinking. “For God’s sake, you know what time it is?”
We stood there watching each other, like boxers who have knocked each other silly and don’t know where to lie down.
I couldn’t think of what to say so I said, “I am most dreadfully attended.”
“That’s the password. Shakespeare. Come.”
He led me through the house to where coffee, a lot of it in a big pot, was cooking on the stove.
“I been working late on my masterpiece.” Crumley nodded toward his bedroom typewriter. A long yellow page, like the tongue of the Muse, was hanging out of it. “I use legal paper, get more on it. I suppose I figure if I come to the end of a regular-sized page I won’t go on. Jesus, you look lousy. Bad dreams?”
“The worst.” I told him about the barber shop, the hundred-thousand-dollar movie sale, the monster in the night, my shouts, and the great beast moaning away gone and me alive, forever.
“Jesus.” Crumley poured two big cups of something so thick it was bubbling lava. “You even dream better than I do!”
“What’s the dream mean? We can never win, ever? If I stay poor and don’t ever publish a book, I lose. But if I sell and publish and have money in the bank, do I lose, too? Do people hate you? Will friends forgive you? You’re older, Crumley, tell me. Why does the beast in the dream come to kill me? Why do I have to give back the money? What’s it all about?”
“Hell,” snorted Crumley. “I’m no psychiatrist.”
“Would A. L. Shrank know?”
“With finger-painting and stool-smearing? Naw. You going to write that dream? You always advise others…”
“When I calm down. Walking over here, a few minutes ago, I remembered my doctor once offering to tour me through the autopsy-dissection rooms. Thank God, I said no. Then I really would have been dreadfully attended. I’m overworked now. How do I clean out the lion cage in my head? How do I smooth the old canary lady’s bedsheets? How do I coax Cal the barber back from Joplin? How do I protect Fannie, across town tonight and no weapons?”
“Drink your coffee,” advised Crumley.
I grubbed in my pocket and took out the picture of Cal with Scott Joplin except Joplin’s head was still missing. I told Crumley where I had found it.
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